Courtesy of Nintendo

Courtesy of Nintendo

March 6, 2019

Tetris 99 is the Gen-Z Tetris

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When I subscribed to Nintendo’s online gaming service, I knew I’d get free arcade games, but I never expected Tetris: Battle Royale.

I mainly subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online to continue playing Splatoon 2 — I’d always played competitively online for free, but Nintendo introduced a paywall for online games starting in late 2018. The $20/year subscription service allows players access to online multiplayer modes on a large collection of popular titles, including Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. However, Nintendo knew players would want extra perks for handing over extra cash just to access features they’ve always had, so they introduced an online-exclusive app called Nintendo Entertainment System to host virtual copies of dozens of games from the NES console. Subscribers can play retro games like the original Legend of Zelda or Metroid for free as long as they connect to the internet every couple of weeks.

However, this app doesn’t hold much value to newer gamers who aren’t interested in retro games or are too young for NES nostalgia (for reference, the NES is older than me, a junior in college, by thirteen years.) Recognizing this, Nintendo has long been promising that Online subscribers would be receiving other perks as time goes on. During their Direct presentation on February 13th, they announced a new free-for-subscribers exclusive: Tetris 99.

Tetris 99 is the unholy lovechild of the classic game Tetris and recent hits such as Fortnite Battle Royale and Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds. More accurately, it’s Tetris’s answer to the Battle Royale genre, a category that describes any game where dozens of players (usually around 99) battle in real time to become the last player standing. Tetris 99 takes this concept and runs with it, taking it . . . somewhere.

The most important thing to understand about Tetris’s Battle Royale game is that there’s no tutorial. A trembling purple button on the home screen taunts “You versus the world. Can you win it all?” Without thinking, I immediately selected it. There was a short waiting period while the system matched me with 98 other players, and then the game began with a haunting robotic voice: “Ready? GO!” Immediately, an upbeat remix of the classic Tetris theme began to play, and a normal game of Tetris appeared in the middle of my screen: a bright yellow square slowly descended in an empty rectangle.

Tetris is a classic arcade game; its gameplay is so iconic, you wouldn’t think it would need a tutorial. But I had no idea what to do. I moved the joysticks on both my controllers, frantically trying to move the square from one side to the other, but all I did was move a pulsating circle around the edges of my screen. That’s when I noticed: I wasn’t alone. What I’d first mistaken for decoration was actually 98 other screens, players with their own games of Tetris.

What looked like laser beams flashed across my screen. Twirling my joysticks further just revealed a baffling menu with choices like “K.O.s” and “Attackers.” My controller rumbled and “WATCH OUT!” flashed across my screen. By the time I realized through an embarrassing amount of frightened button-mashing that I could rotate with A and move side-to-side with the arrow buttons, my screen had seemingly exploded multiple times and the gray bedrock that normally creeps up on a game of Tetris had risen unnaturally fast, killing me instantly. I placed 74th, and the game let me scroll through a list of my accomplishments: “Singles: 0. Doubles: 0. T-Spins: 0.”

I’ve played the game a lot since then, scoring as high as 26th place. I haven’t won a Chicken Dinner, but I have gotten more into the game of Tetris itself. I don’t think I ever really understood it as a kid, but now I kind of enjoy the rhythm of fitting shapes together, which I guess is why the original game got so popular in the first place. I found that I was happiest playing the game when I just ignored all the buzzing and lasers and just focused on my own game of Tetris. I’m sure if I really dedicated myself to it and looked up enough guides online, I could figure out exactly how to attack other players the way they were attacking me using the joysticks and learn what exactly a “Killshot” or a “T-Spin” is, but part of me doesn’t want to really deal with all that. Part of me just wants to play a vanilla game of Tetris.

Which might be what the plan was all along? Has this just been weird Gen-Z advertising for the countless re-releases of normal Tetris that have accumulated over the years? Congratulations, Nintendo, you’ve finally made me want to play a classic retro game.

Olivia Bono is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ojb26@cornell.edu.